March 26, 2007

More tournament thoughts (Warning: gets sentimental)

One of the best things about being part of the puzzle community is how essentially nice everyone is. Yes, we all play to win, but when we don't, I've never seen any of us taking it out on each other. I know Trip was really itching to be back on stage, but even though I edged him by a minute this year to grab third place (tied with Al Sanders on time, but officially in 3rd because of the same tiebreaker rule that would have put me in 4th if Trip had made up enough time on the last puzzle to tie me), he was honestly really happy for me that I got into the finals for the first time. Seriously, I am super lucky to have the friends and peer group I have.

I forgot to mention in my earlier recounting of the final puzzle: I had some difficulty when it came time to put on the headphones which would be playing white noise at me during the finals. I never realized how they worked; from the audience it just looks like everyone is wearing big-ass headphones. They're not. Finalists wear a combination of earbud-style headphones that play the United Nations white noise, and then heavy-duty sound-blocking earphones-without-the-phones go over those. Problem was, I couldn't get my earbuds to stay in -- they were too small! I'd put them in, and then they'd fall out while I was trying to put the bigger headset on over them. This happened multiple times. Finally I remembered that I had my iPod headphones in my bag, and I asked if I could swap them in instead. That worked much better. So that's my advice to you: if you get in the finals, bring your own earbuds.

That whole mishegas probably contributed to my flusteration on the stage, but there were a lot of other stresses too, not least of which was a recurring feeling of, well, impostor syndrome, I guess -- like, "Holy crap, these guys are the best solvers around! What the hell am I doing up here?" There was a reporter interviewing us downstairs before we went up -- an extremely unprepared reporter who had clearly never come within a mile of a Wordplay DVD, I might add, based on the questions like "Have you ever been in the finals before?" that he was asking Al -- and he talked to me a little about what it was like to be in the finals for the first time, and was I worried, and I joked, "Well, you know, obviously I'm at a disadvantage because they've had experience solving on stage and using the big boards, so I'm just going to have to try to crush them with my innate superiority" (meanwhile thinking, "Please just don't let me embarrass myself").

In the end, it was a very stressful 15 minutes I spent up there, but it was quite an honor to be solving beside Al and Tyler. Coming in third has never felt quite so much like winning.

Posted by Francis at 05:38 PM

Yeah, those headphones are a royal pain in the ass, aren't they?

And seriously, your performance throughout the tournament was amazing to watch. After a couple of puzzles, I was thinking "Well, he's had a great start, but I can catch him on the larger or harder puzzles, probably" -- and then you just kept right on leading the pack. I'm hoping that we can compete side-by-side up there one of these years. If I were up there with you and Al, for example, I'd be thoroughly happy with any of the three of us winning (no offense to the damn punk kid, of course).

Posted by: Trip at March 26, 2007 09:26 PM

Sorry, I missed the rest of that, I'm still imagining a reporter asking Al if he's ever been in the finals before and thinking of all the ways that could play out if Al weren't the politest person in the world, non-Howard-Barkin division...

Posted by: Ken/Cazique at March 26, 2007 09:29 PM

Ken, I think you just nailed something key about this crowd: we have to have divisions for "nicest person in the world." I mean, you take Al, and Howard, not to mention Squonk -- three of the world's classiest, most decent guys, all in one room.

And Francis, I have to say I got great pleasure from seeing the combination stunned/beaming look on your face when you'd just seen the standings Sunday morning and were calling Rose.

Posted by: Kath at March 27, 2007 08:46 AM

Oh, please. Wordplay showed us what a bunch of scheming competitive cutthroat bunch you crossword people are.

Er, I mean, seriously congrats. Michelle and I were both *thrilled* to look at the standings on Sunday and see you in third.

Posted by: Lance at March 27, 2007 02:24 PM

Francis, it's always exciting to see a new face in the finals. You had an awesome tournament. Breaking 6 minutes on puzzle 5 was quite an achievement. Congratulations on a great year.

Pencil nerdiness - I'm a fan of the Pentel Twist-Erase. My daring change for the year was to go from .5 lead to .9 lead (kept the leads from breaking during solving and flying across the table hitting someone in the face). Oh yeah, and I only had 4 pencils in my pocket instead of 6 like that embarrassing scene in Wordplay. Let me know if I can get a piece of that Pentel endorsement deal. "Twister! No, Clicker!" Not exactly "Tastes Great, Less Filling", I guess. End pencil nerdiness.

The sad thing about the final is that I actually knew what Secesh meant, but once I put LEVEL in, I was dead, I never even considered that as an iffy entry. I'm not sure why REL didn't set off alarms as a bogus entry, but it didn't. Tyler adds to his legend for figuring that one out. And if Stan's a sadist, and I actually enjoyed the puzzle, that would make me... (quickly erasing very disturbing mental image :-0 )

See you next year in Brooklyn.

Take care, Al

Posted by: Al Sanders at March 27, 2007 07:05 PM

Kath: I had a similar feeling of "Awww!" when Rose (followed by Rob - they'd run into each other on the train from Grand Central that morning) BURST through the doors of the Grand Ballroom JUST as Will was taking the mic to begin announcing the Division C finalists. Totally sweet, something out of a movie.

Also, Francis knows this already, but someone already updated his Wikipedia page to include his recent win. How thrilling!!!

Al, did you see this picture?

Posted by: Lorinne at March 27, 2007 09:25 PM

How do you know they're not just pretending to be nice so that they can bide their time for as long as necessary, years maybe, before plunging the knife in your back? I mean, they're puzzle people - aren't their minds perfectly honed machines of craftiness and skullduggery?

Posted by: CB at March 28, 2007 03:47 AM

Francis, I didn't get a chance to talk to you on Sunday. So a belated hearty "Congratulations!" to you.

Damn, I gotta work harder for next year. *scheming begins*

Posted by: Orange at March 28, 2007 09:46 AM

I'd be remiss if I didn't say something about the incredible sweater vest. Supreme work, Lorinne. And it couldn't have been pulled off by just anyone -- it had to be the Tie Project guy.

Posted by: Linda G at March 28, 2007 08:59 PM

Linda, thank you so much! I agree. I wouldn't have chosen that combination of colors for *anyone* else. It looks sublime on him. I'm very pleased.

Posted by: Lorinne at March 29, 2007 11:16 AM

I have not been here in months, and wandered in today to discover the news about your showing in the big event. Heartfelt congratulations, and to Al, for his showing.

I'm sorry Tyler, but to have gotten secesh takes sort of a sickish man.

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